Drugs found in 90% of pet treats made in China

Pet treats imported from China were discovered contaminated with the antiviral drug amantadine by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Up to 90% of all the treats tested by the FDA were positive for amantadine, an antiviral drug once used to treat influenza in humans. Despite a ban for its use in poultry flocks, the FDA reported in a recent update and that it “does not believe that the amantadine discovered during recent testing of jerky pet treats from China contributed to reported illnesses because the known side effects or adverse events associated with amantadine do not seem to correlate with the symptoms seen in the jerky pet treat-related cases.”

Which brands were bad?
(Three guesses and the first two don’t count)

The brands that tested positive for the drug amantadine? Those brands included Milo’s Kitchen, Waggin’ Train, Beefeaters, PCI, and Dentley’s. FDA contacted the manufacturers to tell them of the findings and confirmed that these products are no longer available. The tested products were associated with illnesses reported to the FDA and were purchased by the owners of those pets a year or more ago. These products are no longer available in US stores or online.

Slower than molasses in January

While we will probably never understand what took so long it helps to understand the treats bought a year or more ago were only just tested in January. The UC Davis (a Vet-LIRN lab) initially detected preliminary amantadine positive results in these older treats in January 2014. The results were preliminary until the laboratory method was confirmed in April 2014 which led to the issue of a consumer update by the Centers for Veterinary Medicine on May, 16, 2014.

Amantadine = Adulterant

Despite this belated discovery, the FDA notified Chinese authorities that “we consider the presence of amantadine in these products to be an adulterant. Chinese authorities have also assured us that they will perform additional screening and will follow-up with jerky pet treat manufacturers,” and the FDA also notified the U.S. companies that imported the jerky pet treats from China of the finding.

Up to 90% tested positive for drug

When asked how many pet treats imported from China were tested the FDA replied that, so far, half the treats tested were positive for the drug:

UC Davis tested over seventy samples, and 20 were confirmed to have amantadine in them. Another 20 samples did not test positive for amantadine. The results of the remaining samples are pending. A FDA lab also tested 16 samples, including some positive samples from UC Davis to confirm the result.

When I inquired about the number of tests conducted and the amount of drugs found in each sample, the FDA replied:

Of the 40 samples tested by UC Davis to date, 20 came back negative for amantadine. Twenty samples tested positive for amantadine, with a breakdown as following:

7 samples 1- 5 ppb
6 samples 6-50 ppb
4 samples 51-100 ppb
2 samples 101-500 ppb
1 sample >500 ppb

But, alarmingly nearly all the treats tested by the FDA were positive for amantadine:

A FDA lab also tested 16 samples for amantadine, some of which were preliminary positive results from UC Davis and two of which came back negative. Of those that tested positive, the breakdown is as follows:

4 samples 6-50 ppb
3 samples 51-100 ppb
5 samples 101-500 ppb
2 samples >500

Drug rendered useless

Despite international livestock regulations prohibiting the use of antivirals like amantadine in poultry production, China’s indiscriminate use of human antivirals in poultry starting as early as the 1990’s has rendered the drug virtually useless in humans today.

It’s for people not poultry

Because of the threat of a human influenza pandemic and the scarcity of influenza drugs, the World Health Organization has repeatedly urged that critically important antimicrobial drugs not be used in animals in order to preserve the efficacy of these drugs for the treatment of influenza infections in humans.

The government made them do it

In 2005, when the Washington Post reported that Chinese farmers had used amantadine to treat bird flu in chickens with the approval and encouragement of government officials, researchers warned that the drug would not be effective if the avian influenza mutated into a form that could spread among humans and causes a global pandemic.

How to avoid a global pandemic

A few months following the Washington Post article, the FDA banned the use of antivirals in poultry production after concerns were raised by the World Health Organization, Food and Agriculture Organization, and the World Organization for Animal Health, that the use of human antiviral drugs in poultry could lead to the emergence of resistant strains of type A influenza.

Currently, because circulating flu viruses have high levels of resistance to the amantadine class of antiviral drugs (which includes amantadine and rimantadine) thanks to Chinese poultry farmers, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stopped recommending their use.

Advice for consumers: Think gutter oil

If the continued urging of the FDA for pet parents to use caution with regard to jerky pet treat products doesn’t give consumers pause, I will go a step further and recommend avoiding poultry from China like the plague. But if you insist on throwing all caution to the wind, it may offer you some slight comfort to know that avian influenza cannot survive in temperatures above 178F°. Assuming that the dehydrated poultry treats were heated during their processing they are probably free of the virus, but that’s not to say they couldn’t be contaminated with any number or combination of drugs or chemicals. It’s also important to remember that in any food production facility there is a risk of cross contamination. Just remember this when thinking about the concern the Chinese might have of cross-contamination of food in China: Gutter oil.

Chinese roulette

Meanwhile, the FDA is advising consumers who are crazy enough to choose to feed their dogs jerky pet treats from China to watch their dogs closely for any or all the following signs that may occur within hours to days of feeding the products:

decreased appetite;
decreased activity;
diarrhea, sometimes with blood;
increased water consumption; and/or
increased urination.

If the worst should happen

Obviously, if the dog shows any of these signs, consumer should immediately stop feeding the jerky pet treat. In addition, owners should consult their veterinarian if signs are severe or persist for more than 24 hours. Blood tests may indicate kidney failure (increased urea nitrogen and creatinine). Urine tests may indicate Fanconi-like syndrome (increased glucose in spite of normal blood glucose).

FDA also asks that owners save the pet treat product for possible testing later on. When possible, this should be done by placing the jerky pet treat product, including its original packaging or container, in a larger sealable bag.

For a complete guide on how to submit a complaint about a jerky pet treat see this comprehensive guide here on Poisoned Pets.

And finally…

The discovery of antivirals in Chinese poultry will, hopefully, slow the approval of imported poultry from China for human consumption (yes, you heard that right). While the USDA equivalency audit of Chinese poultry facilities has been burning a hole on the USDA’s desk, this news should them pause. The news of antivirals once reserved for humans now rendered utterly useless and still find their way into food should give food safety advocates additional ammunition in their arduous battle over the U.S. government’s plan to import Chinese poultry for human consumption. Yet, poultry from China for animal consumption, on the other hand, continues unabated.

Use of antiviral drugs in poultry, a threat to their effectiveness for the treatment of human avian influenza; WHO
Bird Flu Drug Rendered Useless; Washington Post
China Answers Bird Flu Critics; Washington Post

Amantadine: Antiviral Agents and Biologic Response Modifiers; Merck Veterinary Manual
Influenza Antiviral Drug Resistance; CDC
FDA Prohibits Use of Human Anti-Viral Drugs in Poultry; FDA
FDA Provides Latest Information on Jerky Pet Treat Investigation; FDA

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Mollie Morrissette

Mollie Morrissette, the author of Poisoned Pets, is an animal food safety expert and consumer advisor. Help support her work by making a donation today.

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